The joint declaration aims to raise €584 million to resolve the status of some 74,000 refugees and displaced persons in the region.
The document was signed jointly by Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić and his counterpart from Milan Roćen of Montenegro, Gordan Jandroković of Croatia and Sven Alkalaj of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The money will be raised at a donor's conference, planned for 2012. Of the total, €335 million will be used for settling the status of 45,000 refugees and displaced people in Serbia.
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced during a series of ethnic conflicts that erupted as Yugoslavia fell apart, and 450,000 people still remain displaced (see background).
Many of the refugees still live in so-called collective centres. Hardly any have jobs or regular income. Many refugees and displaced persons have no identity documents.
Jeremić said that thanks to the funding, all refugee centres in Serbia will be closed down in the next five years. Alkalaj said that after the war, more than 1 million people returned to Bosnia, adding that 99.9% of the property had been returned. This amounts to 220,000 apartments and houses returned and 325,000 more that have been renovated.
Consensus on the refugee issue
Jandroković noted that the conference's major achievement is a consensus on the necessity to resolve the refugee issue. António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, stressed that the Balkans is one of five priority regions in terms of refugee crises in the world. "For us it is very important to fully support this regional programme and find a solution for 74,000 refugees in the region," Guterres said, adding that it is also important to resolve the issue of displaced persons from Kosovo. David Robinson, the US assistant secretary of state for refugees, said it was important to recognise that the countries in the region were in the midst of resettling refugees, adding that Washington was ready to continue to offer its assistance.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle said the agreement on a joint regional approach to resolving the refugees issue should be a strong motivation for the EU member states to play their role in encouraging the EU's further enlargement at the December summit.
Füle pointed to the significance of regional cooperation, adding that it represents one of the crucial elements of the EU accession and stabilisation programme, which has the return of refugees as one of its main pillars.
"This is a historical day, politically significant for the region, and for the displaced persons who are waiting for a permanent solution," Füle said, as quoted by B92 website.